Austin’s Black Population Shrinking, Feeling 'Invisible'

A report by the University of Texas at Austin found that segregation and gentrification have taken a huge toll on the city's dwindling African-American population. 

Posted: 07/21/2014 02:44 PM EDT

Among the country’s large, fast-growing cities, Austin is the only one with a dwindling African-American population, according to a report from the University of Texas at Austin.

Using Census Bureau data, the report authors analyzed cities of at least 500,000 residents — Austin has 885,400 — that experienced a double-digit rate of population increase from 2000 to 2010. While Austin’s population grew 20.4 percent between that time, its African-American population deceased 5.4 percent.

The report discovered that the Texas city, now popular for its technology jobs, live music scene and relaxed way of life, has been struggling to attract and retain African-Americans.

“Segregation and gentrification are not unique to Austin, but the convergence of those two forces is unique,” the report's author Eric Tang told the Texas Tribune, referring to the city’s history of racial segregation and the subsequent gentrification of Austin’s historically Black neighborhoods. Inequalities in public education, a lack of employment opportunities within the city’s tech and construction industries, and a distrust of local police have also played a large role in the noticeable decline, as noted by the report.

“These patterns do not square with Austin’s reputation as a ‘tolerant’ city, one celebrated for its progressivism, cultural dynamism and emphasis on sustainability,” the report said.

To find better housing value and more balanced school districts, some Black residents are moving to the city’s suburbs or to other cities with larger African-American populations, like Houston.

“If I get past 10, I’m like, ‘Wow, there are a lot of Black people out today,’” said Austinite Natalie Madeira Cofield about spotting other African-Americans in her South Congress Avenue neighborhood.

Cofield, 32, moved to the city from Washington for a position at the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce. Her job requires her to visit different states and countries like Brazil to spotlight Austin as a relocation destination for businesses and professionals.

Regarding Black professionals, there is a sense of “doing your time” in Austin and then moving on because many feel 'invisible,'” she told the Texas Tribune.

While several current and former Black Austin residents interviewed by the Texas Tribune echoed the study’s findings of intolerance towards their community, a few also recognized the city’s potential.

After a short period spent in San Antonio, event promoter Terry Pierre returned to her hometown of Austin to provide her friends with the kind of “urban entertainment” they were missing in the city.

“Everyone can’t just leave,” Pierre said.

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 (Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

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